Today there’s a Cable TV station for every taste. In the 1970’s, before Cable, you had fewer channels, but your choices for TV viewings were mysteriously wider back then, and more fun. Even if the fun involved too many technical flaws and limitations, there are five reasons why I miss TV of the 1970’s!
1. Homespun Commercials You’ll Never See Again. Today, polished commercials can be made with inexpensive consumer level digital video. But, low budget 1970’s commercials lacked technical polish, which sometimes made them raw and more intimate! These commercials often played during the least expensive television timeslots- early A.M. Who could forget such local Long Island commercials as Potamkin Cadillac, The Ritz Thrift Shop and Phil Rizzuto for “The Money Store”? One of my favorites was the Long Island based Public Service Announcement starring a bunch of singing pills who accidentally fell out of their jar. Here it is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xayd1c0wtOE. You know you’re in big trouble when your medicine starts singing to you!
2. Two words- LIVE T.V- Except for the news or a Super-Bowl Half-Time Show, TV execs dare not consider Live TV. But, back in the day, Live TV was commonplace. It allowed for the “you are there” sensation of theatre, where you know anything could happen. The cult horror soap opera DARK SHADOWS had the funniest example of this. There is a scene where the classiest vampire ever, Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) is in close up, talking to some mere mortals. During Frid’s beautifully delivered monologue, a fly lands on his forehead. Frid never breaks character- he continues his speech. Later on, the actress talking to Frid brushes the fly off Frid,–on camera. Very ironic that her line is “…the room will have to be cleaned and scrubbed.” Here’s the clip- enjoy! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_dyhQyXMQJ0.
3. Movies Presented in a Mangled Form. Commercial interruptions during a movie shown on TV were one thing, but what 1970’s TV stations did to fit movies into timeslots and square TV frames was ghastly. Many feature films shown on TV were haphazardly edited to fit 90-minute or 60-minute time slots (The worst I saw was that somebody at WOR-TV removed every scene from ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT except for the battle sequences!) How do you make wide-screen and Vista-vision films, originally composed for a rectangular shaped screen, fit the 1970’s square TV screen? You can’t! You wind up cropping the sides of the frame and showing only about one-third of the image. This resulted in now lop-sided compositions. (For example, in Samuel Fuller’s inventive western FORTY GUNS, there is an extreme close up, compelling in widescreen- of both of Barry Sullivan’s eyes- filling the screen. On the square TV screen, we only see the center of the screen, which is now an oddball image of Sullivan’s nose-bridge!
4. Local TV Guide Movie Reviews. I don’t know who these local TV Guide film critics were, but they were either very snobby, lazy, cranky or all of the above! (The Newsday TV Guide from 1978 pictured left had prime examples of this) Pretty much ALL Oscar Winning films got four stars out of a four-star rating, even questionable Best Picture winners like THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH and MY FAIR LADY got top rating! Fascinating genre films, like drive-in movies and cult westerns would receive at best– two stars. John Ford’s majestic THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE got two stars; Roger Corman’s delightfully comic LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS got one star and Mario Bava’s mega-spooky BLACK SUNDAY- one star. The little capsule movie reviews were of no help. My favorite example of this was the listing for the horror film THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE. The review simply read “yuck!”.
5. Local TV Series you’ll never see on cable- Most current Cable-TV content is very corporate controlled, but the creators of some Local TV shows in the 1970’s looked like they had immense creative freedom. This allowed for some fun free-form, free-styled television viewing such as THE UNCLE FLOYD SHOW. This was a wacky kids show created by a real fun bunch of New Jersey comics. Where else can you see real Jersey wiseguys pick on helpless hand-puppets?! JERSEY SHORE could learn a lot from Uncle Floyd. “Uncle Floyd” Vivino still maintains a fun website: http://www.unclefloyd.net/
Remember THE MAGIC GARDEN? The children’s show starring two very Long Island girls, Carole Demas and Paula Janis. Their very sweet and innocent co-stars such as singing flowers, animals, and puppets were a far cry from the children’s shows nowadays that seem to be pushing three-year-olds to compete in the cut-throat adult world. You can visit THE MAGIC GARDEN website- www.caroleandpaula.com.